There was a moment in the second half of the first season of AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D when the show, decidedly mixed up to that point, seemed to “click” all at once into what it was truly meant to be – both in terms of quality and of narrative-threads beginning to realize their full potential. Without giving it away for the (still) spoiler-averse, it involved the reveal of an Agent’s full backstory and agenda; and once it happened the series started aggressively moving and didn’t let up until the season finale.
It’s now clear that last week’s “Aftershocks,” which dropped the show whole-hog into a new status quo with an entirely new purpose in the Marvel Cinematic Universe experiment, was that moment for this season; with “Who You Really Are” playing out this new scenario with a confidence that feels more akin to a show that’s been working this angle all along… for better or for worse.
FULL SPOILERS from here on out:
In case you forgot, here’s where we are now: Mysterious-backstory’d Agent Skye (Chloe Bennett) has discovered that she is an Inhuman, a descendant of a group of prehistoric humans experimented on by Kree aliens. Though they are born and grow up as indistinguishable from “normal” people, exposure to Terrigen Crystals causes Inhumans to manifest superhuman powers, take on monstrous physical forms or both – and Skye (real name, Daisy) has come out of her experience with the power to create and control earthquakes. Her father, Calvin Zabo aka “Mr. Hyde,” has vowed to assemble an army of mischief-making Inhumans to wrest her away from the recently-rebooted S.H.I.E.L.D, which is itself divided on how to treat/”deal-with” the now-outed Inhuman population; with Agent Fitz (the only other person who knows about Skye’s new powers) seeking understanding while Agent Simmons has emerged with a surprisingly strong “kill `em all!” streak. Meanwhile, new team members Mack and Bobbi (aka “Mockingbird”) are evidently double-agents – but it’s unclear for whom.
The Inhumans, of course, are mainly being introduced (well in advance of their own movie franchise 2-3 years from now) as the MCU’s answer to the superheroes-as-disenfranchised-minority hole left by the absence of X-Men’s Mutants; but they also have a cosmic connection (via The Kree) to the THOR and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY franchises. Hence “Who You Really Are,” which finds The Agents reunited with Asgardian warrior maiden Lady Sif (Jamie Alexander) who has washed up (literally) on Earth with amnesia after a battle with a mysterious Kree mercenary who’s running around with a memory-erasing truncheon (it looks like a party-favor version on Ronan The Accuser’s Universal Weapon) trying to find what remains of the recently-reactivated Obelisks containing Terrigen Crystals.
The showy guest-star business (Sif is still the most prominent visitor from the movies to turn up outside of Nick Fury) turns out to be a bit of misdirection, as the presence of Asgardian and Kree interlopers mainly serves to hasten the reveal of Skye’s Inhuman transformation to the rest of the team. I’ll admit, I didn’t see that coming – figured for sure they’d draw that scenario out for awhile longer – so well done on that front. And it was also nice to see two superhuman fighters hanging about to generate the fight scenes that’ve become a high point of Season 2 (it’s also fun watching the character pairings and blocking work extra hard to draw attention away from how profoundly Adrian Pallicki’s Bobbi towers over Alexander’s supposed Valkyrie…)
On the other hand, all the secret-keeping among the main cast showed signs of Season 1’s bad habits slipping back into the rotation: The Bobbi/Mack double-agent story advanced (save for a post-credits reveal that Hunter was onto them, earning himself a sleeper-hold from Mack) only far enough for the pair to exchange some clumsy dialogue clarifying that whoever they’re working for it at least isn’t HYDRA (I’m still thinking S.W.O.R.D, with possible involvement from General Talbot.) I’m hoping next episode treats this secret with about as much sanctity as this one treated Skye’s – now is not the time to lose this momentum.
Fortunately, the drama of the fallout from Skye’s “outing” made up for the uneven parts otherwise: Bennett is still no Meryl Streep, but she does existential panic well; and it was satisfying to see her interplay with Ming-Na Wen’s protective/tough-love Agent May – plus there was real dramatic weight in the final image of her locking herself inside one of The Agency’s holding cells after realizing that basically everyone but Fitz, Coulson and May are now against her. Similarly, seeing good guy Sif and the Kree baddie both immediately start treating Skye as a monster (or weapon) to be contained rather than a person was a nice shortcut to establishing stakes: Even the “gods” are afraid of The Inhumans? That doesn’t bode well.
- It’s a minor detail, but notice how Sif’s dialogue kept reminding us that she’s interfering in the affairs of The Kree, humanity and those Obelisks on the specific orders of Odin – which, if you’ll recall the ending of THOR: THE DARK WORLD, means it’s actually Loki who’s interested in these affairs. Hm…
- Also fun: The re-upping of Agent May’s major crush on Thor.
- Hey, have you noticed it’s been awhile since we’ve seen or heard from The Koenigs? What’s up with that?
- One reason I was glad to see Hunter suss out that Mack and Bobbi are up to something (and confront them about it) right quick is that the whole storyline of Bobbi wanting to bring Hunter in on whatever because they’re hooking up again just hasn’t been “connecting” for me. At all. I like all three characters, but this was a non-starter as an angle.
- Depending on what kind of episode-spacing is going to happen, AGENTS will potentially be running an episode mere days before AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON hits theaters with at least 2-3 new episodes still to air afterwards. Who can say what that means, but I imagine HYDRA and the already-namechecked Baron Strucker will slither back into play just in time to set up their appearance in in the blockbuster sequel.